City: Cable provider out of line

BUCKHANNON – City officials hope Buckhannon’s TV/cable provider tunes into this message – they’re less than pleased with its recent actions.

City engineer Jay Hollen informed Buckhannon City Council members Thursday that Suddenlink Communications recently installed a fiber-optic line along the border of the city cemetery without municipal permission.

Suddenlink officials were supposed to receive an executed right-of-way agreement from the city before proceeding, Hollen told council at its regular meeting, but installed the line prior to receiving the document.

“Much to our surprise, much to mine, they went ahead and installed that line,” Hollen said, “and (city attorney) Dave (McCauley) and I are trying to schedule a meeting with Suddenlink to discuss that situation because they were given no verbal or written notice to proceed, so it’s in place, but it wasn’t supposed to be.”

City Attorney Dave McCauley said some time ago, Suddenlink presented a proposed right-of-way agreement to Hollen, which McCauley reviewed. Upon doing so, McCauley pinpointed two issues he wanted to hash out with the cable company in a face-to-face meeting. The first problem was that the right-of-way Suddenlink proposed was a perpetual, or a forever, right-of-way. A perpetual right-of-way is problematic because Suddenlink doesn’t own the land along which the fiber-optic line runs, but rather, leases it from the city for a small amount annually, McCauley said. In addition, the term of the lease is tied to the city’s franchise agreement with Suddenlink, which is set to expire Dec. 31, 2014.

“If they no longer have a franchise in Buckhannon, they’ll no longer have a lease or any entitlement to use our hilltop,” McCauley explained.

McCauley also took issue with the fact that Suddenlink officials failed to offer the city any consideration, or proposed payment, in exchange for use of the city’s land, which he said is “contrary to the way things work” with other utility companies.

Council, the city’s TV/cable Board and Suddenlink officials were set to discuss those concerns during an October meeting, which was canceled and has not yet been rescheduled, McCauley said.

“They certainly don’t have any permanent right to do what they are now doing,” he added. “I’m not suggesting that we take action and go out there and clip the line … but at the same time, the city of Buckhannon does not operate in a way where we go in and put water lines and sewer lines and storm lines and things like that in without getting the property owner’s written permission before we do it, and we expect the same from the other utility companies.”

Councilman Tom O’Neill said it sounded as if McCauley “had described a situation in which Suddenlink was guilty of trespassing.”

“Technically, they are,” the city attorney replied. “There’s no question about it … I’m just trying to bring some sense of fairness with the other utility companies (who provide service to city customers) to the table, and I don’t have any amount in mind, but I think there ought to at least be some negotiation about consideration.”

McCauley said Suddenlink offers services of an “in-kind nature” that the city might accept as compensation for the company’s use of city land.

“They have some things they can offer to the city … that we would consider as part of a consideration package, but we’d at least like to talk about it before they just go ahead and use our city property for whatever purpose they seek to use it for,” he said.

Councilman Ron Pugh said this might be a prime opportunity “to get some of the channels they (Suddenlink) haven’t been willing to give us before.” Pugh noted the cost of installing the fiber-optic line was likely substantial.

“I feel like they’d probably be willing to give us some consideration rather than to have to take it up,” Pugh said.

McCauley said he wanted to make it clear that the city wasn’t “at war” with Suddenlink, noting the company provides TV cable and Internet services to the Stockert Youth Center for no charge.

“There’s lots of nice perks,” he pointed out.

“It’s very nice what they provide to the city of Buckhannon,” Pugh countered, “but what they provide to the citizens though is basically a lot of crap. The cable service is terrible.”

McCauley also said Michael Kelemen, local director of government relations for Suddenlink Communications, has been very apologetic – but Pugh said he believed there should still be consequences.

“I’m sorry I got every speeding ticket I’ve gotten too, but I’ve still had to pay them,” Pugh said.

In a phone interview Friday with The Inter-Mountain, Kelemen was quick to point out the pros of putting in the fiber-optic line.

“It’s going to be very beneficial to the entire area,” he said. “It’s a redundant route, so that means if the fiber line gets cut, there is now a back-up fiber line we switch over to.”

Kelemen said the route change will enable the company to “keep cable services on.”

When asked why the company installed the line without receiving an executed right-of-way agreement from the city, Keleman said Suddenlink was simply eager to proceed with the project.

“There obviously was some miscommunication or misunderstanding on our part,” he admitted, “and in our zeal to complete the project, we may not have gotten all the approvals that we needed to get.”

And although he didn’t suggest any specific terms of a potential agreement, Kelemen said he’s hopeful that the company and the city of Buckhannon can settle upon “a successful resolution” in the near future.

– Contact Katie Kuba by email at Follow her on Twitter at IMT_Kuba.